Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Girl's Nite Out (1982)

MAY 25, 2018

GENRE: SLASHER
SOURCE: STREAMING (YOUTUBE)

As slasher plots go, setting a killer loose on a group of college kids engaged in an all night scavenger hunt is a pretty solid one, and as slasher costumes go, putting your murderer in a goofy bear mascot outfit (complete with googly eyes) is pretty much the dumbest idea. Girl's Nite Out (aka The Scaremaker) does both, which alone would make it if nothing else one of the weirder entries in the slasher canon's golden era, but the movie goes a step further with a third act that defies any conventional wisdom about body count flicks, elevating a quirky but ultimately forgettable slasher into "You have to see this goddamn thing" territory for slasher aficionados. Everyone else should probably steer clear, though.

Despite the promising setup, for an hour or so the movie is just another weak slasher from the twilight of the slasher boom. The pacing is particularly damaging; the scavenger game doesn't even start for over forty minutes, forcing you to endure an endless party scene, a basketball game, the Final Girl's boyfriend Teddy's endless wooing of another woman before things finally get slashy. To be fair there are a couple of quick kills to tide us over until that point, but the first is of a gravedigger and seems like it was possibly added later to get another kill in, and the second is actually kind of a dumb move, as it's of Benson, the guy who usually wears the mascot costume. Why they'd cancel out a good red herring in a whodunit is beyond me; my only guess is that they were going for a "show the bomb under the table" vibe for all the subsequent scenes where someone sees the killer and thinks it's Benson, but for the most part he attacks almost as soon as they see him, and he never once uses his "in" to get someone alone (think Terror Train when he takes out Mitchy). As much as the movie needed some action in its first half, I would have rather they sprung his death as a surprise on us later.

Then again it's not particularly difficult to figure out who the killer is, since the performer is someone you'll probably recognize and they only appear in a couple of inconsequential early scenes, so as soon as you think "Hey where's ____? Why would they hire them to play that random?" you'll instantly realize you know exactly why - so they can turn up later as the killer (I've referred to this as "Orser's Rule", after actor Leland Orser, who showed up as an anonymous technician in Bone Collector, a rule otherwise beneath him at that point, making the film's mystery a complete non-starter). I won't spoil their identity for those who might not recognize the actor or actress, but I have more to say about the film's climax, so skip the next paragraph if you want to be as charmingly confused as I was.

So once the killing gets started, the movie becomes a pretty normal slasher (save for the goofy costume), as the murderer offs all of the girls playing the game while leaving the men alone (not that many of them seem to be playing anyway). The killer's weapon is cool at least - a homemade "bear claw" made out of knives taped together in between the fingers (so, basically a cheap version of Freddy's glove, but keep in mind this film predated Wes Craven's by two years), and there's some decent stalk and slash action in this 20-30 minute chunk of the film, if not quite enough to make up for its interminable first half. But then things go a bit haywire once our heroine Lynn (Julia Montgomery) finds the body of one of her friends and calls the cops... because they actually show up! And then we watch them interrogate the male characters for ten minutes, at a point in the film where we should be watching our killer chase her around for a while before she unmasks them and they explain themselves before chasing her again. The game is called off, and everyone goes home while we watch people get questioned and ruled out.

And it gets weirder, as Lynn goes home and we suddenly switch focus to Dawn, the girl Teddy cheated on her with. After Dawn's own boyfriend throws her out for her cheating ways, she realizes the killer is watching her and she runs to the nearest phone to call Teddy, who is trying to comfort Lynn, still upset about the whole "finding the dead friend" thing (I don't think she knows about the cheating). Teddy races off to help her, only to find her attacked/dying already, and then the unmasked killer steps out unceremoniously and stabs him, just as the head of campus security (Hal Holbrook!) shows up and calmly explains that he knows they're the killer. The killer rambles a bit, reveals another corpse behind them, and... it goes to credits. Teddy and Dawn's fates are left unresolved, Holbrook never makes any attempt to arrest/subdue the killer, and our would-be heroine Lynn is left out of the climax entirely. I was so delighted by the rule breaking that I now kind of love the movie despite being bored through more than half of it.

I wish I knew for sure that this unusual approach to a slasher movie's final reel was intentional, a way to throw the audience off after they've gotten so accustomed to how these things work after the past couple years. But sadly, I suspect the wonkiness was just the result of the film's unfortunate production schedule, in which the cast and crew allegedly had to shoot most of the movie over a weekend as they were using an active college campus and couldn't be disrupting normal activity. So it's possible that they didn't get to shoot everything and had to make do with what they had, even if it meant not having an actual ending for their movie. This would also explain the lethargic pace and endless scenes of little importance - they probably didn't have much, if anything, to cut to in order to pare down scenes (many of which are indeed single takes of two people talking), and if they cut these flab scenes entirely the film wouldn't be long enough to get released. And they probably wanted to use every bit of footage they had of Holbrook, who spends all but one of his scenes alone in his shots as they probably only had him for a few hours. Whenever he interacts with another character, there's nothing to establish them both in a single shot or even a body double to show how far apart they are or anything like that, resulting in more than one awkwardly staged conversation (the first time we see him is particularly clunky, as he seems spliced in from another movie entirely).

Now, all of this stuff will be amusing to slasher fans who are used to the basic template, but if you're a casual horror fan with no specific affinity for the sub-genre, you'll probably just see this as a stiff, bad movie. So I want to be clear that I only really recommend it to the people who live and breath these things, who can identify which movie a Jason mask is from based on its markings and things like that. In fact, Friday fans in particular will appreciate the movie more than the average bear, as Part 2's Lauren-Marie Taylor (of "The one with the puck" fame) appears as one of the non-Final Girls (who is apparently having an affair with her second cousin), and her death scene is one of the film's most memorable. As for me, I'm hellbent on seeing every slasher movie ever made, and I only just heard about the movie this week, so I hope my quest continues to uncover these oddities and make it all worthwhile. My usual stance is that if you've never heard of a movie in a genre you're particularly interested in there's probably a good reason - I hope I am proven wrong again (and again) in the future.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Bad Samaritan (2018)

MAY 4, 2018

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As the credits rolled on Bad Samaritan, one of the four other people in the theater - the only one who didn't bolt as soon as the credits began - turned to me and said "Well that wasn't very good, was it?" I agree with her, but even if I didn't, I'd be tickled by the encounter, as it's very rare that a stranger will offer their opinion to me in the middle of a theater (or anywhere, for that matter), but then again it's very rare you can see such a nothing movie like this on the big screen. How it escaped the VOD hell it deserved to get a 2,000 screen release is beyond me, but in a way it's kind of charming to see a movie with almost no stars, a bare minimum of action, and a generic plot playing in an auditorium adjacent to the newest Avengers (which I could occasionally hear through the walls, as daring me to switch theaters).

The plot is sort of combined from Marcus Dunstan's films The Neighbor and The Collector. Our protagonist goes into a house intending to rob it (Collector) and finds a woman chained up (Neighbor), because it turns out the owner (David Tennant) wasn't just some rich douchebag, but he's also a psycho. However he is unable to free her (she's chained up, the chains bolted to the floor) so he runs out and calls the cops, but unfortunately - as is often the case - the bad guy cleans up all of the evidence by the time the cops get there to investigate. That's not the worst idea for a movie by any means - it's always fun to see a criminal go up against a bigger criminal, torn between covering his own ass and doing the right thing - but director/producer Dean Devlin and screenwriter Brandon Boyce do that thing where they seemingly WANT to make every wrong choice possible over the course of their film, keeping it from ever being as thrilling or even as stupidly trashy as it could be. Instead, it's just a giant slog; it takes nearly an hour for Tennant to target our thieving "hero" (Robert Sheehan) and start making his life a mess, and then another 30 minutes for Sheehan to finally start fighting back.

But even if they arrived at this in half the time, it'd still be a misfire, since Tennant's got a weird escalation for his villainy. In a span of less than ten minutes he hacks into Sheehan's Facebook account and dumps his girlfriend via wall post ("It's over, bitch" - LOL), then gets his parents fired from their jobs (OK, not funny, but still rather benign), then... he appears out of nowhere, repeatedly slamming the girlfriend's head into a wall before throwing her over a railing and leaving her for dead. It's the most violent act we see in the film, against a character who was already kind of written out, so it's unjustified on a narrative level and just plain bad on a tonal one. His MO is to "break" people the way one breaks a horse (and yes, this is an actual line in the movie; one of two times I laughed out loud at how dumb something was), but when most of what he's doing is ruining other people's lives I'm not sure how it's supposed to break Sheehan - it just fires him up to get back at him, since he's not really doing much to him directly. Tennant busts up the kid's shitty old Volkswagen, but it never has any effect on his ability to get around - and later he inexplicably leaves his Maserati just sitting there for the kid to take anyway!

Tennant, by the way, is the only reason to watch the movie. The horse breaking stuff is ridiculous enough to amuse, and he seems to be enjoying playing a douchey psycho, screaming like Nic Cage in a few scenes and donning phony accents in others when he has to set Sheehan up for this or that go nowhere subplot. For example he poses as a neighbor to report a break-in when he knows Sheehan and his partner in thieving are going back into the house to try to rescue the girl (or at least find some proof that she was/is there), but they run away before being caught. Worse, when a detective stops by later, he sees the window they used to break in and treats it as if it's some unusual thing - and weirder still, Tennant lies and says he broke the window himself? Why? The cops were already there for the break-in, i.e. it's on the record, so why is he covering it up? And why didn't the detective put that together in the first place? I guess it doesn't matter, because despite being established as the doubting authority figure who will eventually become our hero's ally (and possibly killed), the detective just walks out of that scene and the movie as a whole, never mentioned again. Every single scene with him could have been deleted and it'd have no bearing on the plot.

It would improve the runtime, however. If this thing was like 80 minutes it MIGHT qualify as "silly dumb timekiller" material, but if you got two hours to kill you should be watching something legitimately good, or playing a game, reading a book, etc. The last 15 minutes or so are delightfully stupid at times, and there's a legitimately great line courtesy of Kerry Condon (the trapped girl), but it takes too damn long to get there, with almost nothing even remotely as amusing to tide us over until that point. Tennant blows up his own house for no discernible reason (Devlin must be trying to work Emmerich out of his system), but other than that there's no real action or anything, just a few scattered moments of out of nowhere violence. It's so hard to find payoffs too; Tennant puts a tracker on the kid's car, but only uses it once before just destroying the car anyway. We get a followup scene with a family they robbed prior to Tennant (they run a valet service at a restaurant; if someone lives close enough they take the car back to the person's home, access it, grab some stuff that won't be noticed right away, and return the car before the owners finish eating), suggesting that these people might keep coming back to haunt them in some way, but nah (I later learned the actress playing the mom in the family is Devlin's wife, so I guess he just wanted to give her another scene even if it had no purpose). It's almost like the editor worked backwards, taking what could have been an OK-ish movie and adding things back in until it was just a messy chore.

I'm also baffled that it's being pushed as a horror film (I went in fully expecting a thriller, for the record - its horror-free state had no bearing on my disliking of the film), as it even skirts over most of the thriller elements. Tennant is said to have done this before, and we see a corpse in a pit, but otherwise his more sadistic/serial killer-y actions are left not just offscreen but unused at all. We see a torture room of sorts in his garage, but it's never used and he even takes it all down before the cops show up, so it doesn't even function as a possible destination for one of our heroes. Condon's character has a few injuries but it's never shown how she got them - she's already been kidnapped when the film begins and we spend so much time on Sheehan and Tennant that she is left on the sidelines for large chunks of it, another thing the movie botches since the climax is about her rescue and yet I still wasn't entirely sure of her name. The R rating is pretty much just for language and an isolated shot of a breast; the few acts of on-screen violence are brief. Hell they don't even have any good cat and mouse stuff between the two leads - except for a brief scene where Tennant enters Sheehan's home while he's showering, the two are never in the same space until the final few minutes. There's rarely a reason to even get tense, let alone scared, and the marketing folks are doing no favors trying to sell it to the genre crowd.

They do get one thing right, however: use of technology. Sheehan scores a major victory at one point, getting a shot of Tennant in the act because his friend accidentally pressed the "video call" when fumbling with his phone on a regular call, which I myself have done several times. When he hacks into Facebook, it's actual Facebook, not some poorly mocked up variation, and Sheehan uses Photoshop to boost the contrast and invert the colors of a picture, letting him see an address on a checkbook (as opposed to the usual "enhance!" bullshit where someone gets a perfectly clear image of something that was probably like 10 pixels wide on the original). Tennant also has a "smart house", and while some of it is ludicrous (why would a table fan have bluetooth tech?), I can attest to how slow a Ring type device can be to show you a live image when you request it - the one I got after a few packages disappear often shows me a frame or two of the mailman walking away, too slow to record them actually walking up to my door and leaving the package. For some reason they didn't want to trust Google Maps, however - after Sheehan gets that address, and he's unsure of where the town is, he doesn't just click over on the very computer he's using to see where it is/how far a drive it will be - he moves over to the giant map of Oregon that his 14-ish brother has on his wall and finds it that way. Maybe that's why Devlin made so many alien movies - perhaps he is one, and is just unaware of how human beings actually act? It'd certainly explain the scene where an entire classroom seemingly has their notifications turned on for Sheehan's wall posts even though it's established he doesn't even go to the school.

Oh well. It's not the first time I've seen an interesting concept botched (hell, Boyce has been previously guilty of it - he wrote the thrill-free thriller Wicker Park), and I'm sure it won't be the last. Maybe someday someone will edit a third of the movie out and let it stand as an amusing diversion for Tennant's fans (I should note I never watched Doctor Who and the only thing I know him from is the Fright Night remake, which was even worse than this), but until then I wouldn't even recommend it as the VOD rental it should have been in the first place. In retrospect I should have moved seats to sit with that older lady; maybe we could have MST3k'd it and salvaged the two hours.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Endless (2017)

MAY 2, 2018

GENRE: CULT
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

If you read my book (hint hint) you'll recall that the first movie in each chapter is representative of that month's particular sub-genre; the idea being that if you were to just watch those twelve movies (having not heard of them before, or at least never inclined to watch) you'd hopefully agree the book would have been worth your time/money. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's Resolution got that "coveted" slot for its month (October, which was "horror-adjacent" films), and I was just as big of a fan of their followup, Spring, so it's fair to say I was quite excited for their newest film, The Endless, which has been playing in limited release for a couple weeks now. Alas I only just now found time to go see it, at the non-ideal time of 10pm on a weeknight, i.e. practically a guarantee I'd fall asleep especially considering its 110+ minute runtime - but I stayed awake!

I mean I could just end the review right there; longtime readers shouldn't need to be sold any further on the film's merits ("If Collins stayed awake, this must be worth checking out!"), but for you new readers I guess I'll do my due diligence and get into things like "plot" and "characters". Ya jerks.

I didn't know much about the film beforehand, only that it had something to do with a cult and that it featured Benson and Moorhead in the lead roles, playing their cult characters from Resolution (if you haven't seen that one, I assure you it's not 100% essential, though it will give you a little more context and appreciation for at least one development later in this film). We only met them briefly in Resolution, giving a low-key pitch for their cult to that film's hero Mike, but when we pick up with them here they've left the cult and are trying to adjust to a normal life in Los Angeles, working as housekeepers and trying to keep the bills paid. When Aaron (they use their real first names, though they play brothers, hopefully keeping the idea that they're "playing themselves" at bay) receives a tape in the mail from one of his old "commune" friends, he goads Justin to paying them a visit and see how they're doing.

One might find this a rather ludicrous idea, but it actually works. The hook is that Justin was the one who really wanted to leave and kind of dragged his brother away from a life that almost kind of suited him, and since their outside life is shit there isn't much of an argument he can make for it besides "out here things might get better". Justin finally agrees to go more or less hoping Aaron, now older, will see it for the joke that it is (or that it's just too weird) and finally let go of it so he can blossom in the real world, but obviously things don't go as planned. Aaron starts getting easily swayed back into the fold (having Callie Hernandez instigating things probably doesn't hurt; I'd follow her into a cult sight unseen, let alone one I already had a connection to) while Justin becomes increasingly aware that things there can't be easily explained away by "they're crazy/brainwashed".

I won't say much more about what happens, only that it's very much in line with the unique brand of unsettling but also occasionally funny sort of things that peppered Resolution (so, if you hated that movie, I'd steer clear of this one, but know that I pity you). Again, seeing the earlier film isn't a necessity, but since Aaron and Justin were clearly in the same area as that film's Mike and Chris, it's a foregone conclusion that they'd be plagued by some of the same phenomena, some of which sheds light on the other film's mysteries. Not everything is explained (from either film), but again it doesn't matter - the real drive of the film is seeing these two guys work through their issues with each other and hopefully come out of the situation OK. The two filmmakers have been working together for almost a decade (more? I'm just going off IMDb's historical record) and their brotherly bond comes across throughout the film, and so it's easy to not worry too much about how the tape got sent to them or what that one weird thing we saw was and focus more on their current dilemma, hoping they can escape together or at least find their peace if they do end up going their separate ways. Unlike Resolution, the other characters we meet get fleshed out a bit, becoming people that could be in their own spinoff film (the Resolution Cinematic Universe?). In that film everyone that wasn't Mike or Chris only really appeared once, if memory serves, but here we get to know a few of the cult members and learn a little bit about their deal. I was particularly intrigued with Hal (Tate Ellington), the leader of the group who is patient with Justin's eye-rolling and, at times, almost seems a bit jealous of his ability to walk away from it all. I don't know if it was intentional or just me reading into it, but I kept getting the impression he was about five seconds from asking Justin if he could hitch a ride with them when they left, only to refrain out of some kind of guilt (for the other people) or fear, akin to convicts fearing their parole. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that they aren't just weirdos in the woods and that there is something definitely supernatural/otherworldly going on, and that also adds another layer to it - it's not that he's afraid he's wrong, it's that he's afraid because he knows he's right.

It helps that there's nothing outwardly evil about the cult. Justin says they castrate members, but this turns out to be a lie he told just to get Aaron to leave with him. They're not branded (so it's better than the one Chloe from Smallville ran!) or anything like that - they just live out in the woods, making beer, and have a few unusual rituals. Ultimately it's not really ABOUT the cult, but I think it really works in the film's favor that an audience member watching could kind of see the appeal (whereas if you're watching, say, The Sacrament, and thinking it's a good deal - seek help). My position on all religions - even Scientology to a degree - is that as long as you're not harming anyone, you should always go with the one that gives you the peace you seek, and who cares if it may look/sound weird to an "outsider"? By refraining from any kind of "drink the Kool-aid" kind of insanity, there's no real reason to look down on Aaron for wanting to stay behind; we only fear for his wellbeing due to the strange things that are in the area, independent of the group.

Speaking of fear, overall this is even less of a traditional horror film than their others; if not for the "sequel" status for a previously reviewed film I probably wouldn't count it as one at all, really. It's got a couple of jolts and some undeniably creepy moments (the guy in the tent, gah!), but when compared to cult-based horror like Race with the Devil or Starry Eyes it's closer to drama territory. Perhaps that's due to the fact it's twenty minutes longer than its predecessor but has about the same number of incidents, so they're just more spread out? It's not a mark against the film at all - I gave it 4 stars on Letterboxd, if that helps - but if you thought Resolution had no business in the horror section and were "let down" because of it, then it's probably best to skip this one.

Everyone else, enjoy! It's doing really well in limited release, so hopefully it'll lead to something bigger for the pair next time out. There are a couple instances in the film where the small budget was taking a toll on its visuals; nothing that should lessen your enjoyment or anything (I've seen worse in movies that cost literally 100x as much), but it got me wondering what they might do with a bigger budget - just not one that was so big they'd have to lose their voice in the process. Maybe a Blumhouse "Tilt" joint or something along those lines? But even if they shoot movies on their phone in their own homes I'm sure they will be interesting and worth checking out - they're three for three in my book, which is kind of extraordinary nowadays as I've seen so many filmmakers (particularly filmmaking teams) impress with their first film and never measure up again (cough, Bustillo/Maury, cough). Good job, gents.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

I'm Not Dead!

Hey guys, quick update to assure you I'm alive! I know HMAD's been quieter than normal, but that's because I went to the Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans! It was great, and of course I saw a lot of movies. And I DID review some, but for BirthMoviesDeath, because... well, they pay me, and HMAD does not since the boss* is an asshole. So if you're in the mood for some of my ramblings, head HERE for the reviews I wrote of fest films! I'll have a proper HMAD update this week, promise.

*The boss is also me.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Truth Or Dare (2018)

APRIL 13, 2018

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As I've mentioned before (and yet some of you insist I am lying!), I am not a teenaged girl, so my opinion on films like Truth or Dare* should be of little concern to its target audience or its makers. That said, I found it fairly enjoyable and - relative to its sub-genre, not to horror as a whole - rather impressive in some ways, putting it above the films it will probably play alongside at slumber parties for the next few years. In an ideal world, we'd have a new Friday the 13th movie hitting theaters today (the logic of which I never got - why not release them a week BEFORE their namesake day and get a second weekend boost?), but this is a perfectly decent consolation prize for adults, and thus teens will probably like it even more.

The plot is hokey, but so is "a guy kills you in your dreams" and "a videotape will kill you if you watch it", so I'm baffled by the people rolling their eyes at the damn premise. As the trailers promise, our protagonists are playing Truth or Dare, and if they lie or refuse the dare, then they're killed. It's kind of Final Destination-lite, in fact - once our heroes realize the stakes are real and that there's an "order", they find ways to stay alive while the curse moves on to the next person, then cycles back when necessary. We learn some other rules along the way, including one that states that they can't just keep picking "truth" (once they realize the dares they're given are often quite dangerous); if two people in a row pick truth, the next has to do a dare. This does more than just mix up the film's pattern - it actually ties into the heroine's arc.

See, our traditional hero Olivia, played by Lucy Hale, is the totally selfless type who plans to use her spring break going to Habitat for Humanity, and when asked if she'd spare her friends if it meant wiping out an entire country of strangers, she tells her friends they're goners. So even when she can pick "truth" and merely tell a friend something they probably don't want to hear, she chooses dare in order to make things safer for her next two friends in line. Once the demon (of course it's a demon behind everything) figures that out, it uses it against her - daring her to tell the truth, heh. I mean it's not the point and it's going to go over the heads of its target audience, but the underlying theme of the movie is to stick by the people who care about you instead of trying to please strangers (her passion for her Youtube channel is another underplayed element of this), and she ultimately learns her lesson, albeit only after a number of her friends are killed.

As for the others, they're the usual gaggle of stock characters in these things: Markie the blonde best friend, Ronnie the horny asshole no one likes, Veronica the lush, Brad the minority (OK to be fair there are two this time, but they double down by making the Asian guy gay as well), etc. But they're fairly likable versions of these people; even the asshole guy is kind of charming in his own way, and (spoiler? it's in the trailer) he's the first to go, so it's not like we have to put up with him for that long anyway. At first I was ready to write the whole lot of them off when signs of yet another goddamn love triangle reared their cliched heads, with Olivia clearly gazing at Markie's boyfriend, but instead of just a generic way to introduce strife, it's actually kind of a thru-line for the entire movie, and part of the game as well. For starters, nothing's happened between Olivia and the guy - she just has feelings for him that she can't act upon, because she cares about her best friend more (this makes her, I believe, the first modern horror movie character who seemingly cares more about their best friend than getting laid). Second, Markie is constantly cheating on the guy with randoms, trusting Olivia to cover for her - making Olivia's feelings even harder to deal with, as she could easily get what she wanted and not even feel that guilty since Markie's the one in the wrong anyway.

Anyway, this stuff keeps coming back into the game, so again it's just not a lazy excuse for people to be mad at each other and thus go off on their own to get killed. The demon uses it against both of them and the boyfriend at every opportunity, to the point where I was genuinely unsure who, if any of them, would survive, and if they would end up together or not. Plus in between their scare moments we get the more straight forward deaths of their pals, with the demon using their own issues (such as Brad's fear of telling his father that he's gay, or Veronica's drinking habit) to conjure up some psychologically driven dares. Eventually it bogs down to the usual "Oh look online here's an article about this old church and blah blah we have to blah blah ritual" stuff we've seen in a zillion others, but the fact that the characters aren't all jerks and that their death scenes are intrinsically linked to their personal demons (as opposed to the random nonsense of things like Wish Upon) make it more compelling than I originally assumed, keeping my interest. I mean, due to the way the theater was designed and the fact that no one was in my row I could have looked at Twitter or something during the movie without anyone seeing/being bothered, and I DIDN'T. The word "hero" gets thrown around a lot, but...

To be fair, you do have to overlook a couple of dumb things, like the fact that the old lady they go to for exposition has a granddaughter, even though the backstory is that she was a nun at age 19 who cut her tongue out and went crazy, so I dunno when she found time/interest to get knocked up after that. The actors playing the two parents we see are both remarkably terrible; thankfully their screentime is kept to a minimum but considering their importance to their children's storylines it's a bit of an issue that they both seem to be meeting them for the first time in their scenes. And I get the concept of using a Snapchat-y looking filter effect on the faces of the people who are possessed by the game, but it's not creepy at all and overused anyway. I suppose if they used it sparingly it might just produce laughter when sprung on the audience, so at least we get numb to it by the halfway point if not sooner, but it's an odd gamble to take. I mean everyone looks like they are victims of Joker's gas in the Burton Batman, but even they were creepier since it was an appliance instead of a CGI effect (not to mention an unexplained one - why are they all smiling? They just love Truth or Dare that much?)

But they're not fatal flaws - the biggest obstacle it has is that there have been a lot of these "supernatural curse targets a group of friends" type movies in the past couple years (Friend Request, Wish Upon, Bye Bye Man, Rings, Ouija, and Unfriended all came to mind more than once, plus Polaroid, which would have been released if not for Dimension's legal woes), and I'm not sure if "the characters are better written than usual" or "the death scenes aren't throwaway things that look cool" is enough to convince folks to show up. Quiet Place is also only a week old (and, to be fair, better) so it can't coast on starved audiences the way Ouija was able to when it had Halloween time all to itself for reasons I can't recall, and "Jeff Wadlow's best film!" isn't exactly a huge hurdle to clear, either. Basically, it's not great, but it's better than I figured it would be when I sat down (and saw the goddamned Sicario 2 trailer for the dozenth time - yet I still haven't seen one for Bad Samaritan which supposedly opens in three weeks), and I wish it was opening at a time when it had no competition so it would shine a little brighter - or that it was merely just a touch better so I could give it a stronger endorsement without sounding crazy. But the ending is admirably gonzo, if that helps?

What say you?

*It's actually called "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" on-screen, which is ridiculous. Don't start doing this, guys. Hopefully it's just a one-time thing because of the other movies with that title, but if not... just don't.

PLEASE, GO ON...

A Quiet Place (2018)

APRIL 3, 2018

GENRE: MONSTER, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (ADVANCED SCREENING)

The scariest horror movies are usually the simplest - people (including me) may love the Saw sequels, but they're never scary in the slightest, because they're too bogged down in their labyrinthine plots to lull you into being frightened. I'm not sure why so many horror movie writers seem to be ignorant of this, but thankfully, John Krasinski of all people isn't one of them, as his newest film A Quiet Place (his first foray into the genre) is so stripped down to its bare essentials that it practically makes the likes of Halloween and The Strangers seem complicated in comparison. The earth's population has been decimated by monsters that will kill you if you make a sound, and Krasinski is the father of a family trying to survive under those circumstances - that's it. There's no human villain, no team of scientists babbling on, it's just a few days in the lives of these people living out their very quiet life, and how they react when things go astray.

And Krasinski (along with original writers Bryan Woods amd Scott Beck) conveys this without much of an ability to say so, since there are only about a dozen spoken lines in the film. A few newspaper headlines clue us into the monsters' origins (a crashed meteor, not that it matters but I'm sure some joyless twerp would complain otherwise), but the "rules" are laid out in an opening sequence - along with the consequences for breaking them. I liken it to an old arcade game like Pac-Man or Space Invaders - you didn't need tutorials or manuals for those games, as they were simple and quick to grasp just from looking at their basic layout. It's the same thing here; even if you went in blind, it'd only take a few minutes to understand the plot, which is that our heroes need to be very quiet or else they'll die. Communication is carried out through sign language, every action is done gingerly (I never thought I could tense up watching someone try to put a battery down on a counter, but I have now), and you damn well better watch your step to avoid creaky floorboards and the like.

As for the creatures, their design is a mixed bag. They move so fast it's often hard to get a good look at them, but they're kind of like Xenomorph shaped, with heads that unfold like flower petals to reveal their well tuned eardrums (in fact, since they're blind and seemingly can't smell their prey, their heads are basically just giant ears), i.e. kind of generic all purpose modern movie monsters, nothing iconic that you'd instantly recognize ten years later. I couldn't tell if they ever had any practical ones, but I don't think they do, which is a bummer but at least it's high quality CGI and they're used sparingly, plus there's no real "interaction" to speak of - if they're close enough to touch you you're already dead anyway. But it's not free of analog's pleasures - Krasinski and DP Charlotte Bruus Christensen shot on film, and it looks spectacular, in addition to giving it that old-school look the plot itself invoked. If not for an iPod the film could have been set in the 1970s (and to even it out, the song they listen to on it is an oldie: Neil Young's "Harvest Moon"), and I swear it was to give the film that bit of humanity (Krasinski and wife Emily Blunt dance to it, sharing the earbuds) that he didn't just go ahead and make it a period piece.

But look there could be hovercrafts and VR displays on every corner and it wouldn't take away from the main appeal: the movie is scary as all hell. And if you've been reading my nonsense for these past eleven years (Christ...), you should know that's not something I say often. Think of all those great "don't make a sound" kind of scenes in movies (not horror, but the "suspended over the computer" scene from Mission: Impossible would be a good example) as well as every super nerve-wracking monster scene (like when the aliens finally come through the roof in Signs, or the basement scene in War of the Worlds), and string them together/stretch them out for a feature, and that's what you get here. It's also the rare use of LOUD SOUNDS to make a scare that actually makes contextual sense - when someone accidentally knocks something over or steps on a crunchy thing, the sound team cranks up the sound, and for good reason, because every noise might as well be the loudest thing possible, being that the monsters can detect it instantly and move at lightning fast speed to catch you.

Even better, it might be the first horror movie that's cell-phone or talk proof, too. It's not like the film is mute; there's a score and things like wind rustling or water dripping - i.e. rhythmic, natural sounds - don't set them off, but it only takes a few minutes for the film to start affecting your own behavior. I took a sip of my drink and it slurped a bit, so I instantly froze up, and I noticed the lady next to me being oh so cautious as she removed her sweater to put it on the seat next to her. I'm sure there will be assholes ruining it somewhere in the world, but as this was a free radio station screening and I didn't see a single cell light the entire time (and only minimal whispering, though it was a big auditorium so perhaps I just got lucky), there's hope that your crowd will be just as into it and playing along with the whole "shut up or die" approach. The movie only offers spoken dialogue twice; Krasinski and his son talk for a bit behind the masking sound of a waterfall, and the former shares a conversation with his wife in their tiny somewhat soundproof room that they've set up. The rest of the time, any noise you make is liable to get a dirty look from one of your fellow moviegoers, so it's best to follow the rules.

I recently joined Letterboxd, more for my own memory to keep track of what I saw over the year, and thus had to start rating films. I gave this four (out of five), and it woulda been four and a half (fives are reserved for my all time faves) if not for two things. One is, ironically, the score - it's got a lot of that BWAARMMMMMMMM stuff I dislike and it's just kind of generic, so it was intrusive given the whole "quiet" nature of the thing. There's one pretty good cue near the end during a key moment involving the family truck, but otherwise I woulda been happier if Krasinski opted to have no score at all. The other one requires a spoiler about the opening scene, so if you want total blindness skip the rest of this paragraph. For those still here, the opener is a gut-wrenching moment, when a careless action from their youngest son ends his life, and it largely works - but only because the parents inexplicably walk ahead of their two children, one of whom is deaf. I get why Krasinski would want to lead the way, but why Blunt is right behind him instead of her children, who cannot call for help (and in the deaf one's case, hear any danger behind her) is a complete goddamn mystery. I get that they had to hammer home the consequences early on so that we knew just how careful they had to be, but I wish they had figured out a more logical way of presenting it. Still, at least the movie's biggest narrative blunder is at the top instead of the end; I had mostly forgotten about it by the time it was over.

Otherwise, I was totally on board with the film. Sure, if you start thinking about what we don't see you might have questions, like how they were able to establish their routine without making noise to implement it, i.e. stringing up warning lights and setting up radio equipment, and if you've seen the trailer you know that Blunt's character is pregnant, so that raises some possible logic flaws (I satisfied myself by assuming it was an accidental pregnancy and they had neither the knowledge or resolve to terminate it). But 99% of all movies have those kind of issues, and you're kind of missing the point if you try to go beyond what they're showing. It's a scary movie first and foremost, designed to keep you grabbing your armrest or partner's hand for 90 minutes while reminding people like me that you're never above being frightened by what's on screen. I wouldn't be surprised if it grossed over $100m, and I hope it's the start of a new, more Blumhouse-y direction for Platinum Dunes (yep, this deliberately paced, quiet movie was produced by none other than Michael Bay). Plus it's nice to see Paramount getting a win after all their troubles - it's a shame they already blew their chance at doing another Friday the 13th, but that just gives them more incentive to create new ideas like this.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

APRIL 1, 2018

GENRE: RELIGIOUS, SURVIVAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

When I was younger and attending Catholic school (for grades 1-8), during Lent we would go to Mass on I think Friday every week and get an abbreviated mass just for the students. Due to the younger crowd, the priest would cater the sermon to us a bit, and one time he delighted me by starting off with "Who has seen Friday the 13th 1, 2, 3, 4...", followed by other franchises (I remember being miffed he went up to 4 for Child's Play, which at the time, 1992 or 1993, didn't exist yet). His point was to explain how the acts of gory violence in those movies were nothing compared to what Jesus went through during his Crucifixion, so I always wondered what he thought of The Passion of the Christ, which is indeed gorier than all those films combined, and all directed at one poor guy (that'd be Jesus).

And I can assume he saw it, because pretty much everyone did in 2004 when it was released. I still remember the entire lobby being jam-packed when the film got out as another crowd waited for the next show, far more people than I had ever seen in the theater (the AMC Boston Common, for the record) even for the likes of Star Wars. The film's North American gross remains the highest for an R rated movie (non-inflated), and it was the worldwide champ until another movie about a guy who rises from the dead took its place (that would be Deadpool). It was a true phenomenon, something no one could have predicted and presumably got a few studio execs fired since every one of them turned Mel Gibson down even though it was a low budget ($30m) production, forcing him to bankroll the movie himself and release it independently. And this was before he was persona non grata, mind you.

Despite that huge success, he went back a year later and recut the film in order to soften the violence and hopefully get a PG-13, for the people who couldn't deal with it in its R-Rated form. This version, however, was a huge bust - just as the original form has box office records, the recut version is still floating high on the charts of worst opening weekends ever. No one wanted to see that version, and for good reason - watching every smack, every lash of the whip, every hammer blow to the nails in his hands and feet, was crucial to the movie's power. And it reinforces what my priest was trying to get across all those years ago - you truly feel the agony this guy went through every step of the way, and every time you feel it can't get much worse or that he couldn't possibly go on any longer, it does, and he does, and you realize you can't really complain about stubbing your toe or whatever ever again.

In a weird way it's also the only real reason to see the movie. The performances are great and it looks very nice (the cinematography got an Oscar nomination, in fact, despite being passed over for any of the more major awards), but as a narrative it's a bit of a misfire, as it requires you to know the story already in order to follow it. The first thing Jesus says in the movie, I think, is scolding Peter for not being able to stay awake for an hour, without informing us what he was referring to, who Peter is, etc. Judas' betrayal comes up shortly thereafter, and again it has almost no on-screen explanation for what is happening - you're just expected to know that Judas was a. one of Jesus' disciples (something we haven't seen or been told) and b. that these assholes weren't sure what he looked like or where he was (let alone why they were looking for him in the first place). And even though I DO know the story I still have no idea what's up with that freaky little baby that looks like the Man from Another Place cosplaying as Stewie Griffin, only that it certainly adds to my justification for making it an HMAD entry today.

Granted, it's a famous story, but a little more context would have gone a long way, especially for those who had trouble with the violence. What little we do get comes in the form of flashbacks, but even those tend to require a passing knowledge of the Bible to understand their significance. Almost no one in the movie is introduced properly (I'm not even sure if Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene has more than a line or two); I just checked against a transcription of the film's subtitles and names like Judas, Mary, and John are only spoken once in the entire two hour runtime, and even less time is spent explaining why they are important. The best flashback has nothing to do with a Bible story (at least, not a major one); it's a scene where Mary comes up to Jesus and tries to comfort him, and we are shown a quick scene of a young Jesus, maybe five years old, having taken a tumble or something and Mary cradling him to soothe him - it's heartbreaking to see the contrast. Whatever you choose to believe about the immaculate conception, his ability to turn water into wine, etc - there's no denying that this man went through several hours of grueling torture, and that his mother had to sit on the sidelines and watch, unable to help her child. As anyone with kids can tell you, your child is never too old to avoid being thought of as your baby that you must protect, so Mary's mental anguish is equal to the physical torture Jesus was enduring.

Luckily, I did know the story quite well thanks to the aforementioned Catholic school upbringing. In fact during Lent the mass would include "The Stations of the Cross", which was a reenactment of this story played out around the church, where the fourteen stations were marked with pictures of each event - the sentencing, the carrying of the cross, the nailing, etc. Of course, this is a little "play" put on by Church volunteers, so when you're a kid it's hard to really comprehend the brutality of what really happened when you see a guy being kinda brushed with a small length of rope, carrying a cross that weighed approximately 10 pounds. "This doesn't look so bad," seven or eight year old me would think, assuming that the Church was presenting it exactly as it happened (though I knew they weren't really killing the guy at the end, because I saw him do it a dozen times).

I'm not sure if it ever really clicked until I saw Mel Gibson's take, in fact; somehow I thought whipping just meant he'd get a lot of red abrasions and bruises on his (clothed) back, and that he was more or less undamaged until the nails went in as he was hung on the cross. But if anything it's a wonder he even had any blood left in his body by the time they got to that point, as they whip his BARE back with "cat o nine tails" over and over, and when you think the commanding asshole is about to put a stop to it, he instead asks his men to turn Jesus over so that they can continue ravaging his front as well. Just as my priest suggested, it was indeed more brutal than anything I've ever seen Jason or Michael do - the most horrifying moment being when one of the "tails" wraps around to his face and swipes his eyelid. The power of the weapon is demonstrated on a wooden table, showing chunks of splintered wood being torn away before they turn their attention to this man's skin, and even in the cut form it's agonizing to watch.

On that note, Jim Caviezel was truly robbed of a nomination. Not only was he speaking a foreign (and dead!) language, he also went through plenty of physical trauma (including a dislocated soldier) and sold every second of his agony, something that's even more powerful in the cut version* as it holds on his face rather than cut to the lashings. In the few flashbacks you get the impression he would make a terrific Jesus in a movie about his usual day to day, and even though I was familiar with him already thanks to Frequency and Thin Red Line and such, he completely disappears in the role. Ironically, one of the actors who stole his rightful nomination was Leonardo DiCaprio (for The Aviator), who would ultimately win the award a decade or so later for The Revenant, primarily because he put himself through a lot of physical agony for it. Even the actual Jesus probably would have been like "This is some bullshit".

Long story short, it's a powerful film if you're well versed in the history, otherwise it's just the longest torture scene in film history that only relents to give some flashbacks that may not make total sense to you. Granted, I'm not sure who would be seeing the movie unless they had at least some idea about it (rabid Mel Gibson fans? People who saw "Rated R for sequences of graphic violence" on the trailer or poster and thought it was part of the mid-00s torture horror wave?), but I think Gibson could have at least offered up a few Cliff's notes to bring those who had let their Sunday school lessons retreat to the back of their memories along with algebra and frog dissection. And it's certainly not the kind of film you'd want to watch over and over (I bought the DVD nearly a decade ago and just opened it for this viewing; I hadn't seen the film since opening night, fourteen years ago), but I highly recommend watching or rewatching it now, with so-called Christians delivering messages of intolerance and hate (indeed, our so-called Christian president tweeted "HAPPY EASTER!", then went into a three part rant about how much he hates minorities). Even if you literally know nothing about Jesus, the film shows a guy going through unimaginable torture and yet still showing mercy and forgiveness to those who wronged him, and how it's not helpful to only love those who love you. Maybe some of these people, most of whom have never experienced more than a paper cut, can learn a thing or two about the guy they supposedly follow.

What say you?

*For the record I watched the theatrical one, then went back and watched a couple of key scenes in their "PG-13" form.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Blood Beat (1983)

MARCH 29, 2018

GENRE: POSSESSION, WEIRD
SOURCE: STREAMING (AMAZON PRIME)

A couple months ago, a friend of mine who had just installed a home theater with 4K and 7.1 and all that jazz had a few of us over to marvel at it, but this friend isn't exactly a blockbuster kinda guy, i.e. the movies you'd want to demo a high-end home theater with. I brought a couple of my 4K discs, but what we ended up watching was Blood Beat, a full frame, probably mono film that had been recently released on standard Blu-ray. I mean it probably never looked or sounded better in its nearly 35 year old life, but I can't say I was blown away by the home theater's capabilities (though he did relent and let the rest of us watch a few minutes of Fast and Furious 8, and then I could confirm that I really need to have a proper home theater someday), making it a peculiar choice to show the system off. So I just focused on the movie itself (a novel idea, eh?), but alas I was tired before it even started so I passed out halfway through and when I woke up I had no idea what was going on, vowing to watch the rest later that week.

Well two or three months later, "later that week" is finally here! Obviously I just rewatched the movie from the beginning, because my vague recollections were of no use - "Hunters, a samurai, and I think a painting" was not enough to write a review or even find where I left off. But if you've seen Blood Beat you know that I could watch this movie a thousand times and still not make much sense out of it, so I guess it didn't really matter in the end. For those uninitiated, the film focuses on Gary, a standard Wisconsin man (read: a hunter) who is dating a woman that would rather sit inside and paint all day. Her grown children are coming to visit for Christmas, and when they arrive she immediately gets weird vibes from her son's girlfriend Sarah, and the feeling is mutual. This puts her in a rather antisocial mood, so the others all instantly go hunting, at which point the horror stuff starts happening.

And by horror stuff I'm sure you know what I mean: the ghost of a Samurai that is bathed in blue light and makes sounds that the subtitles refer to as "Mystical Boinging". I mean the movie is actually kind of a slasher in general terms - the samurai ghost thing starts offing people one by one with his sword, but it's all so damn bizarre that it never really gives that slasher vibe. For starters, we don't really see the samurai until the last 20 minutes, so until then it's more of a "presence" than a flesh and blood stalker, and either because of the film's low budget or the director's incompetence (both?) the kill scenes are hardly anything one could refer to as a highlight, which is kind of the whole deal with slashers (especially by 1983). And in one of the film's many unexplained elements, Sarah's orgasms seem to be linked to the killer, so if she's flicking the bean or riding her boyfriend, the kill scenes are intercut with her doing that, making them even harder to follow. I can't even tell if her sexual energy is giving the samurai some life, or if she's psychically turned on by his killing spree. Either way they're having fun doing their thing, I guess.

It occurred to me during the film how many of these "regional" productions are totally insane, and I have to wonder if it's intentional or just an unfortunate side effect of people making a film when they don't really know what they're doing (it's a good a time as any to note that the writer/director of this film never made another, and didn't realize the film was full-frame until he was halfway through shooting). I can tell you from experience that ideas that make perfect sense to you don't translate to the screen and can leave others confused, so I have to wonder if movies like this, or Things, or Disconnected, or any of the other random ones I've found over the years were intentionally vague or forced to be that way because of how they were made. I mean there's gotta be some train of thought that puts the ghost of a samurai in the middle of the Wisconsin woods, right? Unless they were just using the ol' idea balls in the manatee tank (Google it), I have to assume there was a scene explaining it that got cut due to damaged film, or maybe they ran out of time/money and never got to shoot it in the first place.

Anyway, the movie has JUST enough of that sort of inept insanity to make it worth a look. The Samurai talks in a weird computer voice, there's an out of nowhere argument about juice between two equally out of nowhere characters, and the "Samurai vision" and other random effects are almost impressive when you consider when/how the movie was made. But those moments are often separated by long stretches of people just repeating their banal dialogue, long pauses, walking around, etc. so it's fairly dull more often than not. There's a hunting expedition that goes on forever, and I think we spend more time watching two of the characters play Monopoly than we spend watching the samurai in all his/her glory. Plus the disconnect renders a lot of it less fun than it should be - sure, it's awesome when the kitchen goes haywire and we get cans of Tab flying around, but since it's so unrelated to everything else (and barely mentioned after) it doesn't generate that kind of kitchen sink insanity that Evil Dead or Hausu ramps up throughout their respective runtimes. It also ends on some of its most confusing notes (a major demise is suggested while we look at a static shot of a door for ten seconds) and the surviving characters calmly walk out of the house while putting on their coats as if they were going to run an errand instead of escaping a nightmare scenario that left some of their loved ones dead.

I suspect it'd be more fun with a midnight crowd, perhaps during one of those all night festivals where your sleep deprived brain has you thinking you're hallucinating some of this stuff anyway, and the baffled reactions of your fellow moviegoers can generate enough energy to smooth over its rough patches. If you've never seen this sort of thing before, I guess it's a good place to start before you get into the really insane likes of Don't Go In The Woods or MST3k fodder like Manos. But as I've had more than just a taste of these things, I dunno, this one didn't have that je ne sais quoi that'd have me excitedly recommending it to like-minded fans unless it was on the big screen. It was just OK, and that's not the reaction I'd expect from a movie with a synopsis that included the phrase "possessed by the spirit of a Japanese samurai warrior". I actually preferred it when it was just focusing on its poorly acted characters yelling at each other - if it focused entirely on that juice couple, this would be a much more excited review. Oh well.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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